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Chrysler reports best sales figures in four years as February shows 40% rise

Auto giant shows 40% rise from last year’s February figures, with sales increasing at Ford and GM despite rising gas prices

US car manufacturers enjoyed bumper sales in February as drivers bought fuel-efficient vehicles amid rising gas prices.

Chrysler led the pack, announcing its best sales figures in four years – a 40% rise year on year and the firm’s 23rd consecutive month of gains. The company, controlled by Italy’s Fiat, emerged from bankruptcy in June 2009.

Sales increased 14% at Ford and 1.1% at General Motors. GM’s year-on-year growth was lower than its rivals’ because it outperformed them the previous February, making it tough to outdo themselves. Last year GM regained the crown as the world’s biggest car firm from Toyota.

The announcement came as gas prices in the US are spiking on fears of conflict with Iran. Gas prices have reached record highs for the winter months — averaging .32 in California and .73 a gallon nationally, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

“Our product portfolio now contains some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in our company’s history, driving our sales up 40% in February,” said Reid Bigland, president and CEO of Chrysler’s Dodge brand and head of US sales.

He said Chrysler’s decision to focus on more fuel-efficient cars had paid off.

“A few years ago higher fuel prices were a major threat to our total vehicle sales, whereas today those higher prices have become far less of an issue.”

The company sold nearly 134,000 new cars and trucks as all of its brands, which include Fiat, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep, showed at least double-digit increases.

Analysts are forecasting a 3% increase for the industry for the year, with smaller cars leading the sales rise. US car sales hit a 30-year-low in 2009 and have been rising for the past two years.

Detroit’s latest figures will be a boost for President Barack Obama, who has put his decision to bail out the car companies during the credit crisis at the centre of his re-election campaign. Obama has said the bailout saved 1.4m jobs.

The two leading Republican presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, have continued to attack the bailout. Romney recently called the bailout “crony capitalism” and repeated his belief that the car firms should have been allowed to go bust.

The rise offers further signs of recovering consumer confidence in the US. Consumer spending rose 0.2% in January as personal income increased 0.3% from December, the commerce department said on Thursday. In December, spending was flat, but incomes rose 0.5%.

The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, warned on Wednesday that higher gas prices could dampen consumer spending, but he remained cautiously optimistic about the recovery.

“The recovery of the US economy continues, but the pace of expansion has been uneven and modest by historical standards,” Bernanke said. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds